AUGUSTA — From the minute Alyssa Albert started high school, she was laser focused on the end of it.

“Throughout my high school career, I have been mature for my age,” Albert said earlier this week after marching practice at the high school. “I have been, like, get me out of here. I am ready to move on; I want to start working.”

Alyssa Albert at the Gardiner Area High School graduation ceremony Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

But even before she crossed the stage with her 142 classmates at the Gardiner Area High School’s graduation ceremony in front of nearly 1,000 people at the Augusta Civic Center, her perspective had started to shift.

“I have so many amazing people around me that I am so close to, and that’s the part that makes me sad leaving,” she said.

The ceremony, rich with tradition and celebration and dressed in school colors of orange and black, will launch them all to the next phase of their lives, ready or not.

Albert is ready.

She’ll attend St. Joseph’s College in Standish to pursue a career in nursing, an interest that was sparked by the mental and physical illnesses of her grandparents.

And she’ll take with her the lessons she learned in class and the lessons she has learned about life.

Albert said the hardest things she’s had to overcome during high school is the loss of classmate and teammate Tabytha Hembree, who was killed in a wreck on Route 27 in Pittston on the first day of school in 2017.

“People say you want to have your team like a family, and that’s what we were,” she said.

They had just come through the soccer preseason with a new coach. The double sessions over that two-week period bonded the team.

Teacher Kristy McNaughton, left, hugs graduate Alyssa Albert in the hallway before the Gardiner Area High School graduation ceremony Saturday at the Augusta Civic Center. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

“It’s one of the hardest things anyone in high school has to overcome,” she said. ” You hear about things like that, and you just think it’s so awful that it could never happen. From that experience, you take every day and you tell everybody how much you love them and how much you appreciate them because you never know.”

The soccer team didn’t have good seasons. They spent their junior year overcoming the loss of their teammate and their senior year building from it.

“It’s not about the win-loss record,” she said. “You do something because you love it, not because you’re going to win all the games.”

At Saturday’s graduation, the idea of failure or loss and how it can be overcome, and the lessons it teaches, were woven through the speeches of Salutatorian Casey Bourque and Valedictorian Sarah Foust.

The keynote speaker, Gardiner graduate Rick Malinowski, offered up some advice to the members of the graduating class of 2019, which includes his own son, Nathan.

“As you go forward in life, let others help you,” Malinowski said. “Then reach back and help others. Give back to Tiger Town.”

After all the graduation parties, Albert will head off with her family for a post-graduation trip to Italy. When they return, she’ll go back to McSeagull’s, a Boothbay Harbor restaurant where she has been waitressing for the past two summers.

As she prepares to move on, Albert has some advice for those who are following the well-trod path of high school into adulthood.

“Be true to who you are. You don’t have to be friends with the popular people. It’s the people who are not the most well known who will care for you the most. That’s what makes leaving here so difficult.”


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